Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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Axioms for Nations

Although the nations of the world are still a long way from agreement on a United Nations or any other set of supranational rules, a surprising amount of consensus has evolved over the centuries. Using the example of the axioms underlying Euclid's geometry, a few basic assumptions have to be made, which cannot be proven; but change just one of those axioms, and the whole structure of governance changes. First, the easy part: the structure of the nation:

Boundaries of the state. A group of some sort may form a close association, but unless it stays within stated boundaries, it is a Tribe. At the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, most of the European tribes agreed to stated boundaries, and those boundaries define nations. Unfortunately, former residents of the bounded area may dispute the ownership. Even when there are no known descendants of former residents, the title of current residents ultimately rests on tradition and the threat of force.

Citizenship. Somewhat greater variation is seen in the definition of a citizen, but most nations confer citizenship to children of citizens, to those who were born within the nation's boundaries, and to still others as defined by the rulers of the nation.

Ownership of real estate.

How is the ruler chosen>

Who makes the day to day rules, who enforces them?

And then, it's so hard it may be neglected, and therefore likely to fail:

How do you distribute political power, when component states are of widely different size, wealth, and military strength? The Westphalian states were all too small to matter, but John Dickenson of little Delaware saw that it was a vital point.

Almost the same thing, states may differ in oil deposits, gold, silver and other natural resources for the future.Maldistribution of oil deposits has historically been the most disruptive force in world affairs, for example. Powerful countries simply laugh at "one man, one vote" protests. Its uselessness has doomed the powerlessness of both the United Nations and the League of Nations.

Originally published: Saturday, June 02, 2012; most-recently modified: Wednesday, June 05, 2019